If you ever feel vaguely guilty about the vast amounts of television you watch, might I suggest you cling to the findings of this study, published last week in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. In it, the authors claim that watching high-quality television dramas — things like Mad Men or The West Wing — can increase your emotional intelligence. That is, watching good TV makes you more empathetic.
In the paper, the authors describe two experiments that led them to their pro-TV conclusion. In one, they asked about 100 people to first watch either a television drama (Mad Men or The West Wing) or a nonfiction program (How the Universe Works or Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back). Afterward, all of the participants took a test psychologists often use to measure emotional intelligence: They're shown 36 pairs of eyes and are told to judge the emotion each pair is displaying. The results showed that the people who'd watched the fictionalized shows did better on this test than those who watched the nonfiction ones.
They tried this again, only switching up the programs (The Good Wife and Lost versus Nova and Through the Wormhole) and adding a control group, too: people who took the eye-reading test without watching any television first. Again, their results showed that the fiction viewers' empathy scores were superior, though the nonfiction viewers' scored higher on average than those who hadn't watched anything beforehand.
It's a similar finding to a widely reported 2013 study that claimed that reading literary fiction is linked to better scores on this empathy-measuring test. The authors of that study and this new one argue that a complex fictional narrative forces the reader or viewer to consider a problem from multiple perspectives; further, since not every character's emotion is explicitly spelled out, the audience must do some mental work to fill in those gaps, making a guess at the inner lives of the character.
That literary fiction study, however, was also widely critiqued for its methods. Specifically, the fiction the researchers chose for their study was by authors like Louise Erdrich or Anton Chekhov; the nonfiction, on the other hand, was one of three Smithsonian articles, with titles like "How the Potato Changed the World." I mention this not to speak ill of delicious tubers (I would never do that), but to point out that the nonfiction samples they chose weren't about people. No wonder the study subjects were better at reading human emotions when they'd just spent some time reading about human emotions. And this new study falls short in a similar manner: Is it really that surprising that people might be in a more empathetic state of mind after trying to figure out what is going on in Don Draper's head than they would be after watching a Shark Week show? What does that really tell us?
然而那項對文學小說的研究，也因其研究方法而廣受批評。尤其是，研究者為他們的研究所選的小說，是由像路易絲 厄德裡奇和契訶夫這樣的現實主義作傢所寫的。而他們所選的非虛構文學作品，是史密森雜志的三篇文章之一，題為《土豆是如何改變世界的》。我提這點不是在說土豆壞話（我永遠不會這麼做的），而是為瞭指出，這些非虛構類文學作品不是關於人的。這也就難怪實驗者在讀完關於人情的作品後，能更好地理解人的感情瞭。這項新研究也有著相似的局限：人們在揣摩唐 德雷珀（《廣告狂人》主角）的腦子裡想什麼之後，比看完《鯊魚周》之後變得更能理解他人，這真的令人驚訝嗎？這到底告訴瞭我們什麼？
Maybe not much, but if you're looking for an excuse to buckle down with some binge-watching now that the weather's turned, do what you will with this new research.
emotional intelligence: 情商；情緒智商
buckle down: 傾全力；開始認真從事
▼多益閱讀解題技巧 // TOEIC Reading Strategy Part 7